BOISE – Idaho’s state health insurance exchange – unlike Washington’s – reported a flawless launch over the weekend, as the state shifted from relying on a federal technology platform to a home-built one.
“It’s 360 degrees different,” said Pat Kelly, Your Health Idaho executive director. At last year’s launch, he said, “It just plain didn’t work.” This time, he said, “We had a very successful first couple of days; no technology problems to speak of.”
The Washington state exchange went down early Saturday because of a glitch over calculating tax credit information; it started back up Sunday.
Idaho had one of the nation’s strongest enrollment rates through its state exchange last year, with 76,000 Idahoans using it to enroll in health plans and, if they qualified, receive tax credits to offset some of the costs. That made Idaho third in the nation for per-capita exchange participation, behind only Vermont and Florida.
Idaho’s exchange, approved by state lawmakers two years ago after a big fight and at the behest of GOP Gov. Butch Otter, allows the state to control the marketplace, the carriers and the plans that are offered, and to use Idaho insurance agents and brokers. Had Idaho not started its own exchange, under the federal Affordable Care Act, its residents would have used a federal insurance exchange, which charges higher fees – 3.5 percent of premiums, compared to Your Health Idaho’s 1.5 percent fee.
But Idaho wasn’t ready last year to have a website up and running for its exchange, so it relied on the federal exchange website for plan enrollments, making Idaho’s exchange a federal-state partnership. Now, that’s all happening in-state.
“Instead of the federal government controlling things that happen in Idaho, Idahoans control it this year,” Kelly said.
“We opened at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and our phones lit up minutes later, and we were successful in working through the application process,” he said.
Over the weekend, YourHealthIdaho.org reported nearly 13,000 unique visitors; the state’s four call centers reported 700 calls. Kelly said the first set of enrollment figures will be released in early December.
“We’re really, really pleased with our experience over this first couple of days,” he said. “We have put a tremendous amount of work into our system and operations. We planned for a few bumps in the road, and we’re proud that we didn’t have any.”
If the 76,000 Idahoans who enrolled in plans last year do nothing, they’ll automatically be re-enrolled in the same plan for 2015, Kelly said. But Idahoans are being advised to check and see if that’s still the best deal for them and their families. The Idaho exchange has 52 new plans and two new providers for next year that weren’t available last year, and premiums for some plans are going up, while they’re going down for others.
“There are more plans than last year, and what that means to consumers is there is increased competition for their business, which is great for Idaho,” Kelly said.
Idahoans can contact local insurance agents or brokers for help finding the best deal for them on the exchange, at no extra charge. “The agents and brokers are compensated by the carriers,” Kelly said. Or state residents can sort through the plans on the website themselves; it offers anonymous browsing, so people can see what’s available without setting up an account.
Exchange officials estimated Idahoans saved $4.4 million this year in fees because of the state exchange’s lower fees compared to the federal exchange.
Operation of Idaho’s exchange currently is funded with millions in federal grants. But starting in 2016, it must become self-supporting, relying entirely on fees. The exchange has $32.2 million left in federal grant funds. By law, no state funds can be spent on it.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.